The 20th Century Mystics
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The 20th Century Mystics

A Brief History of Recent Occultism

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The 20th Century Mystics
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This past week, I fell down a strange and bizarre Internet rabbit hole, which lasted far longer than I'd intended it to. Because I have nothing to really say this week, I thought I would just share the things I'd learned from a ton of Wikipedia articles, podcasts, weird occult websites, and a few conversations with my weirdest and most interesting friends. Seriously, this is gonna be weird, and combine a lot of religious, occultist, and historic aspects. The thing is, I'm not sure how much of this is common knowledge, and how much of this is new to others as well. So here we go, down, down, down.

Rasputin, L. Ron Hubbard and Aleister Crowley were all alive at the same time.

I find timelines fascinating, because we often don't place things historically the way they actually played out. The way we learn history, we tend to segregate by location, or by big events, which makes it hard for us to think of things like this. For instance, the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank were born in the same year is kind of baffling, because they were separated not only geographically, but by the huge events for which they’d later be known.

So the thing is, Rasputin was around for six years before Crowley was born, and Crowley was 36 before Hubbard came into the world, but there were five years where they all roamed the Earth, and there was a great deal of time where Hubbard and Crowley overlapped. But what I find interesting about this is that they all represent the same thing to a different faith and government. A man considered a formidable threat by his enemies, and as a mystic or a prophet to a great number of people. So what was it about the late 19th, and 20th century that made the need for religion so necessary? Obviously, it was a very turbulent time in history, with everything from the Russian Revolution (which Rasputin’s assassination was a part of), to the World Wars, to the Great Depression.

I’d imagine that growing up in the 20th century, one may feel disillusioned. With everything happening globally, and with the advancements in communications and combat, it was easier than ever to know what was happening all at once. And we may think of Rasputin as an “old world” figure, but to put him in an interesting context, he died as the Russian Futurism art movement was starting. Also known as Rayonism, and one of my favorite art movements, it was a style that was about how quickly technology was moving, and a fear of what might come afterward.

Gregori Rasputin (January 21 1869 - December 30 1916)

Rasputin is more of a mythological figure than a historical one at this point, so a lot of this information may be kind of skewed. Still, Rasputin is a fascinating figure. They say that in his early life, fellow peasant villagers believed that he had mystical powers. He joined a monastery in his teens, but didn’t become a monk, instead getting married at 19. He was 37 when he moved to St. Petersberg, and within two years, he was introduced to Tsar Nicholas II, whose son, Alexei was very sick. Rasputin cured the boy, which got him in good with the Tsar.

There’s a lot of speculation about what actually happened there, but there are theories of hypnosis, dark magic, and even the grace of God. Still, it could have been coincidence, or it could have been actual medicine. We can’t be sure, but the boy supposedly got better, and that’s all we need. He spent a lot of time with the Tsarina, and claimed to be her advisor, and since he was not only a peasant, but also a vulgar and vile man, the people of Russia weren’t happy.

During World War One, the Tsar went off to war, and revolutionaries attempted to kill Rasputin, as they believed he was using dark magic to keep influence over the Tsar and his family. He was stabbed in the stomach in 1914, which failed to kill him. In 1916, he was given a cake with enough poison to kill five men, and ate the whole thing, without seeing any harm. The assassins then decided to beat him and shoot him in the back, which got him onto the ground. Rumor has it that he tried to get back up, and was shot several more times before they wrapped him in a carpet and threw him in a river, which was partially frozen. Because of that, his body surfaced a few days later, and autopsy reports said that he was alive when he was thrown in the river, and that he attempted to free himself before succumbing to hypothermia and drowning. Powers or not, the man wouldn’t die. He also had an enormous dick. Like seriously, it’s in a museum, and it’s massive. Definitely Google it, but it’s obviously not safe for work.

Aleister Crowley (October 12 1875 - December 1 1947)

Of the three names I listed, Crowley seems to have the least mainstream recognition. This strikes me as odd because I’d say that he’s one of the most interesting and influential occultists out there. Born in English nobility, he was a spoiled brat, and was horrible to his parents. His mother called him 'the beast,' and that’s something that he associated himself with for the rest of his life. He was raised as a Christian, and early on was criticizing the inconsistencies in the bible to his religious teachers.

During his University years, he climbed the Alps every year. Interestingly, he’s still noted as an amazing mountaineer, and set many climbing records in his day. He also contracted syphilis and gonorrhea from sleeping with prostitutes, and traveled to St. Petersburg in 1897, nine years before Rasputin would arrive there himself. As time went on, Crowley went back to England and joined several religious and occult movements such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and Buddhism.

He went to America, and was admitted into Freemasonry, then went to Mexico to climb several mountains, and then went to Hawaii, which was a U.S. territory at the time, but would not become a state for 50 years. He was also studying Enochian, or angel magic, at the time. He then went to India and took up Shivaism, an offset of Hinduism, as well as royal yoga, which he claimed to have used to reach a true knowledge of self and enlightenment. He attempted to climb K2, and got 20,000 feet up before he had to go back down due to the harsh conditions.

He married Rose Edith Kelly in 1903, and they honeymooned in France, Egypt, and England. Egypt was the most important one, though, as Crowley attempted to invoke Egyptian deities while studying Islamic Mysticism. As he was doing this, his wife fell into a hypnotic state and told him that “they are waiting for you” and that “the Equinox of the Gods has come.” She led him to a nearby museum, and said that the “they” who she claimed to have possessed her was depicted in one of the exhibits. She showed him the Stele of Revealing, and said that the deity depicted in this artwork was the one who was waiting for him. It was the god Horus. Crowley at first believed that she was delirious, but upon noticing that the exhibit number was 666, the number of the beast, he took it into some more consideration.

A few days later, Crowley claimed to have heard the voice of Aiwass, the messenger of Horus, and he chronicled everything that it said into The Book of the Law, which would lay the ground for the religion he’d found called Thelema. He claimed that this was a new Aeon, and “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Interestingly, he disobeyed a lot of the instructions that were listed in the book.

Honestly, even paraphrasing, there is a lot of information, and way too much to write here. He founded many organizations, some of which are still around today, and influenced a lot of people. The one worth noting in this writeup is Jack Parsons, a rocket engineer and practicer of Thelema. I’ll get back to him.

Crowley died in 1972 of natural causes.

L. Ron Hubbard (March 13 1911 - January 24 1986)

While Rasputin was hard to figure out because of legend, Hubbard is another monster entirely. The followers of his faith have edited his history so much that it's comical. He was an eagle scout, and very well traveled, though the subjects of his travels are heavily debated between learning magic and teaching natives, or taking family vacations and barely acknowledging natives as people.

He got attention in the public eye in the 1930s as a pulp science-fiction writer. In the 40s, he served in the Navy, but his service, according to the LA Times was "substandard." The year of 1945 saw Hubbard moving into the mansion of Jack Parsons, who led a division of Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis. Parsons was dating a woman named Sara Northrup at the time, and within no time at all, Hubbard was making romantic advances toward her. She left Parsons for Hubbard, and despite that, Parsons enjoyed Hubbard's company. Parsons even described Hubbard in a letter to Crowley as "the most Thelemic person I have ever met" even though Hubbard did not practice their religion.

With the publication of Hubbard's "Dianetics" in 1950, The Church of Scientology was founded.

There's plenty more to say, but there's too much to say here. So I'll end with this, L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 of a fatal stroke.

The 20th Century Mystics

The lives, work, and spirituality of these three men would inspire countless other artists, writers, occultists, and religious movements. The fact that Crowley was in St. Petersburg right before Rasputin showed up, and founded his religion after Rasputin's death is fascinating to think about. Even more interesting is the Jack Parsons overlap, and the fact that Hubbard founded his faith three years after Crowley's death. Each faith starting very soon after the other passed on. I don't know if there is a conclusion to take away from this, or if there's more to this that I just haven't found yet, but this is how I've spent the past week-- studying the monk, the libertine, and the novelist.



Works Consulted:

Out There Radio interview with John Crow, host of Thelema Coast to Coast.

All That is Interesting - Rasputin Facts

Wikipedia - Rasputin

Wikipedia - Crowley

Wikipedia - Hubbard

Wikipedia - Parsons

Wikipedia - Raja Yoga

Wikipedia - Enochian

Wikipedia - Thelema

Wikipedia - Shaivism

Wikipedia - Stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu

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